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Nigerian Militants Claim Attack on 3 Shell Oil Facilities

Nigeria's main militant group said Sunday it sabotaged three more oil facilities in the restive Niger Delta in response to a military offensive begun last in the region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, said in a statement e-mailed to journalists that the group had destroyed two Royal Dutch Shell oil pipelines in Rivers state. It is the first attack by militants in the eastern delta since MEND launched its latest campaign of sabotage.

MEND said it also attacked a Shell offshore facility on Sunday. A Shell official has confirmed the attack on two Shell oil pipelines in Rivers state but denied that its offshore facility had also been targeted.

Sunday's attacks came one day after militants blew up an oil pipeline in nearby Bayelsa state.

Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer, but production has been badly affected in the wake of attacks by MEND and other smaller groups.

MEND has threatened more acts of sabotage against the oil industry.

Ikoyil Wilson, the leader of the Ijaw Youth Council, a prominent youth group in the Niger Delta, told VOA that aggrieved groups in the region should be encouraged to enter into dialogue with the government. He also wants militants to consider the government's pledge to grant an amnesty.

"The people of the region have the right to agitate, but such agitation should be channeled in such a way that there is room for dialogue," Wilson said. "On those who are armed, I have said, this is our time and this is our moment to cash in to disarming, so that we can have an opportunity to continue to dialogue. Dialogue may be slow but one thing at a time, we will get there."

MEND emerged in early 2006 as a leading group calling for a greater share of Nigeria's oil revenue for the producer region. It has carried out a series of deadly attacks in recent months.

President Umaru Yar'Adua took office in 2007 promising to address the root causes of the violence. But MEND has repeatedly accused the government of "insincerity" in handling the situation.

Unrest in the Niger Delta has substantially reduced Nigeria's oil output, putting pressure on crucial export earnings.